Operation Black Antler: Immersive Theatre Experience Raises Ethical Questions About Surveillance

Operation Black Antler ★★★☆☆

Hannah Foulds
By Hannah Foulds Last edited 10 months ago

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Operation Black Antler: Immersive Theatre Experience Raises Ethical Questions About Surveillance Operation Black Antler 3
Image: Blast Theory

Immersive experiences are traditionally built around escapism; inviting you into a fantastical, parallel world. But what if it was turned on its head? What if the experience forced you to face the extremities of real life? Southbank Centre’s Operation Black Antler does just that.

We, among a small group, are led from under a railway arch in Southwark to an undisclosed location by mysterious text messages. We’re then briefed by a stoney-faced actor who dishes out a horrible reality: we’re going undercover for one night to infiltrate a covert far-right protest group. Gulp.

We create new identities, new jobs, fake ‘far right’ issues to talk about, and get a full briefing on how to behave as an undercover police officer. We’re then guided to a party at the back of a pub, where we awkwardly walk into a room full of strangers and infiltrate the group by carrying out a number of uncomfortable conversations with the far-righters, feeding back intelligence to HQ.

Image: Blast Theory

Co-created by artist group Blast Theory and critically acclaimed immersive theatre company Hydrocracker, Operation Black Antler invites you to not just explore but experience the wider ethical questions of when surveillance is justified.

This was an experience that will stay with us, but it was exhausting and — at times — a little uneventful. Is this the start of a new wave of immersive realism? We hope so, but perhaps with a little more momentum next time.

Operation Black Antler, undisclosed location. Tickets £27.50, until 13 April 2019.

Last Updated 10 April 2019